I was never in favor of getting a guinea pig in the first place. Cute, but still too much like their rat cousins for my taste. But when it came to choosing between a guinea pig or a dog, there really was no choice. While we all loved dogs and wanted one of our own, my husband was on a fast career track and we moved every time he got a promotion. Complicating matters further by adding a dog to the mix just wasn’t reasonable.
Our six-year-old twins, Maddie and Noah, were not open to reason. They wanted a pet and they wanted it NOW, even though we’d be pulling up stakes and moving again in a year. Fatty came into our lives as the lesser of evils, never the most rousing recommendation.
He was a fluffy brown and white creature with sparkling black eyes and chubby cheeks (hence his politically-incorrect name). The kids loved him on sight and actually followed our exhortations about gentle handling. There was a surprising outlay of cash for a surprising number of must-haves, and we learned to speak basic guinea pig. Fatty could be noisy when he wanted something, and soon had us trained to jump when he whistled. We learned to balance his diet, line his cage with hay, and put him where he liked to be (with us). Fatty seemed happy, or at least that’s what I assumed. He was reticent about his emotional life.
After the next move, Fatty proved to be a gateway drug for making new friends. He went to school for Show and Tell, endured the caresses of strange hands and wheeked and whistled nonchalantly in his new home. We stayed longer in that house and town than we ever had. It was five years almost to the day when we got the news another transfer was in the offing. Once again we assembled boxes and packing peanuts and said goodbye to another group of friends and neighbors. Maddie and Noah cried this time. They were old enough at eleven to understand the pain of parting.
Fatty chose this moment of angst to scuttle off to Rodent Heaven.
“He was old for a guinea pig,” I said comfortingly. “We’ll bury him here under this beautiful maple tree and always remember him.”
“Mom! We can’t just go off and leave him!”
“But, well, he’s dead, he doesn’t know.”
“We know. We have to take him with us to our new place so we can visit his grave.”
You see the problem. Fatty would be slowly decomposing during the three-day drive to our new home. I foresaw a car full of sad kids, stressed parents and one stinky dead guinea pig.
“Maybe we can put him in the moving van,” my husband suggested.
“And have all our upholstered furniture reeking of death? No, he’s going to have to go with us in the car. What about freezing him?”
“Could be difficult to keep him on ice, with all the other stuff we have to keep track of.”
“Not much choice, though, is there?”
Fatty was sealed in a clear plastic bag and spent a frosty night in the freezer. The next morning he was packed in ice in his own little Styrofoam cooler and placed in the trunk. The kids wanted him in the back seat with them, but we put our parental feet down on that one. We didn’t want Fatty defrosting from too many loving peeks and pokes.
Many stops were required to re-ice Fatty. Many tears were shed in the back seat, mourning his loss. I wondered how many of those tears were really about other losses.
Once we got to our new place and the shovel was unpacked, my husband gathered the family and started digging. We were soon joined by three neighborhood children.
After introductions came the inevitable question: “Watcha doin’?”
“Burying our guinea pig,” said Noah.
“Oh, neat. Wanna see my tree house? It’s got a zip line with a trampoline at the end.”
“Wow! Mom, can we?”
“What about Fatty?”
“Yeah, we’ll visit his grave later.”
Just like that, the kids were gone and my husband and I were alone with Fatty’s slowly melting corpse.
“Here, just toss him in,” my husband said. He quickly filled in the hole and patted the surface flat with the shovel.
“Hey, are you crying?” he asked, looking me over.
“Maybe. A little.”
“But you didn’t even like Fatty all that much.”
“Look, we dragged that poor frozen guinea pig across the country so he wouldn’t be alone, but when we move again he’ll be left in that little hole. Now he’s not even getting a proper funeral. The least I can do is cry.”
I don’t know for sure what made my husband re-evaluate his mad climb up the corporate ladder, but after that we stopped moving every couple of years. He said it was time to put down roots.